EMail: Gospel of Judas (Review)

Dear Gillian  

I trust you are refreshed after your sojourn to Serbia! 

I wasn’t exactly honest with you yesterday – when I said I was examining the Medal of St Benedict –  I was actually doing that for a time, but I then transitioned into reading the book entitled ‘The Lost Gospel of Judas’ written by Herbert Krosney, (2006), Published by the National Geographic, etc. This paperback is just over 335 pages long – but the actual translation of this Coptic text does not appear until right near the end and only covers Pages 301-323! Yes, ‘22 Pages’ of well-spaced out and fairly ‘sparse’ text! As an academic used to highly condensed data delivered in the most efficient British (or ‘Chinese’) manner, this American book was a bit of a hike! For some reason, National Geographic turned a significant archaeological find into a Disney-esque adventure story. Still, it gave me a chance to use my ‘speed-reading’ skills, and 90 minutes later the book was read.  

The first 301 pages are full of pointless expression of ‘who said what to whom’, and ‘who went where and when’, etc. Totally irrelevant content to the subject matter, and a triumph of spin over substance!  It is a perennial truth that professional academics cannot write adventure stories, and this book proves that observation (despite becoming a ‘New York Times’ Best Seller’). Part of the problem is that this is a bizarre Biblical text and I will tell you why. Bear in mind that I have just read ‘The Lost Bible’ by JR Porter – which covers many of the ‘apocryphal’ Biblical texts that never made it into the received (Western) Bible (although a few made it into other extant versions of the Bible). These texts are similar to the Four Gospels in the New Testament (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), and are obviously, in one way or another, linked to the Three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), etc, with ‘Luke’ also writing the received ‘Acts’. The point is that the ‘apocryphal’ Biblical texts are undoubtedly related in context, style and theological import, but were deemed to be slightly or significantly ‘off message’ by the developing Church Authorities. I suppose their attitude was that as there was so much to choose from, why not choose the best that they knew of, although this is often a contentious area of study. Needless to say, the Gospel of Judas not only departs from the message expected in the received Bible, but it appears to be a text from a completely different religious background that has only ‘borrowed’ Christian symbology. 

This Coptic text written on papyrus was found south of Cairo and north of Nag Hammadi probably sometime in the mid to late-1970s. Interestingly, the monastery of St Anthony was situated just to east of El Minya – the area of the find. This papyrus was in a bad state but remained in private hands until 2001, when it was transferred into the care of professional academics who began the immediate work of restoration and preservation. (It is important to remember that in 180 CE, Irenaeus (the Bishop of Lyon), thoroughly condemned all Gnostic teaching as a heresy, and made a particular point of attacking the ‘Gospel of Judas’ – so assuming it is the same text, we know it existed at this early date). There was an immediate investigation into its provenance, and after extensive carbon-dating and ink and papyrus analyse, all the results concluded that a) it is genuine, b) it dates between 240 CE – 320 CE (suggesting 280 CE as near the exact date) and c) this is a copy of an earlier version of this text.  As an aside, this book mentions that one of the earliest known complete ‘New Testaments’ is that of the ‘Codex Sinaiticus’ – a Greek Bible dating to 350 CE.   

Al the way through the Gospel of Judas there is an Egyptian ‘ankh’ figure used as a ‘cross’ with a loop over the top (so that the entire structure looks like a person). As the Coptic scribe retained certain Greek characters that he couldn’t translate, it is logical to assume that it was copied from a Greek original. The beginning of the Gospel has no virgin birth but states that it records a ‘secret conversation’ between Jesus and Judas. Jesus came to the earth, performed miracles and chose twelve suitable disciples. Every time the disciples ask questions, Jesus continuously ‘laughs’ at their lack of understanding, but chooses Judas as his main confidant. Jesus explains that Judas has the most difficult task of all the disciples, and that he has been chosen for this task due to his purity of spirit. Jesus further explains that he will be ‘hated’ on earth for what he has to do, but loved in heaven! Jesus talks continuously of the spiritually pure being able to stand ‘before his face’ if their insight is genuine. At one point, Judas claims that Jesus is from the realm (or ‘aeon’) of ‘Barbelo’ Barbelo is the Divine Mother of All in Sethian texts – said to be the ‘Forethought’ (pronoia) of the Father. Jesus openly condemns the conventional Jewish practice of cow sacrifice at the temple, but goes further by suggesting that Jews who do not follow his teachings are prone even to human sacrifices (of their wives and children), men commit homosexual acts with one another, adultery abounds as does every other type of sin! The text then states ‘the disciples were troubled’! Jesus reiterates that although the (Jewish) priests call upon the name of his father – his father will not listen to these pleas because they (the ‘Jews’) are following the wrong path! Jesus says that Sophia – although corrupt – must be made correct so that the souls go up to the eternal realm and out of the corrupted material realm. There then follows a drawn-out explanation that involves Adanas and Luminaries, and an explanation of how Saklas (Sethian – meaning ‘fool’ in Aramaic) instructed his angels to create humanity. They create Adam and Eve (the latter of which is also called ‘Zoe’ – Greek for ‘life’). A it is only through the acquisition of genuine ‘knowledge’ that the gnostic path works, Eve is deemed as ‘correct’ for tempting Adam to eat of the tree of life. Physical life (I.e. the earth and everything on it) is referred to a ‘mistake’ by the Gnostics, with escaping the tyranny of matter being the only genuine spiritual path. Within this context Judas becomes a supreme hero as he facilitates the conditions for Jesus to escape his worldly bonds! This gospel ends with Judas betraying Jesus and receiving a payment (but this is only what it looks like from corrupt, worldly perspective). Jesus is taken away and the text comes to an end. There is no trial, torture, crucifixion, death or resurrection.  

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